Miitopia: Extremely Late (Yet Somehow Still Early) Impressions

This is either the world’s greatest RPG or the world’s worst fanfic, and I LOVE IT.

I like Miitopia. I like it a lot. But I also recognized that the game had its limitations, and didn’t think it had enough crossover appeal to warrant a re-release on a newer Nintendo system‚ÄĒin fact, I thought its best choice for a new life was as a mobile game. Nintendo thought otherwise, however, and dropped a surprise announcement a few months ago that the game would be coming to the Nintendo Switch this May. Sure, there would be a few new features (enhanced Mii customization options, a horse partner) and the graphics would now be in stunning 1080p, but for someone who had sunk 200+ hours into the original game, would there really be enough here to warrant coming back? Would the game still hold my interest for a second complete playthrough?

The original 3DS game had a playable demo available before the game, and Nintendo repeated the move this week shadow-dropping a Switch demo of the game. The main headline here is that the demo…is pretty much the same one they released ahead of the Nintendo 3DS version, so I’ve pretty much already reviewed it (hence the title of this post). However, there were a few differences this time around that are worth noting:

  • Miitopia is not a graphically-demanding game, so I didn’t think the upgrade from the 3DS to the Switch would make much of a difference. However, I was surprised to see how much the visuals popped on a larger screen, and how much new detail as actually noticeable! (The character reflections of the floor of the cavern were a really nice touch. That said, the technical transition from the 3DS was rougher than I expected: The dynamic shadows on characters can be super pixelated at times (I noticed it most on my mage’s hair coming from their hat), and you encounter some slowdown in the game at odd times (displaying items and adding gold to your stockpile seemed to be a common trigger). Given how much more powerful of a system we’re dealing with here, I feel like these shouldn’t have been an issue for this port.
  • Remember when Nintendo was trying to minimize the role of its Mii characters on the Switch? Suddenly, they’ve come back in a big way: Not only are they the stars of this entire adventure, but the most important addition Nintendo made to the game was the inclusion of makeup, wigs, and a huge range of customization options that have already led players to create some incredible Mii designs for the game.

If Nintendo has learned anything from Super Mario Maker and Miiverse, it’s that it has some incredibly creative/talented people in its fanbase, and when they give them tools that are this powerful to mess around with, they get some amazing results. If there is any feature that’s going to sell this game, it’s this one.

Not a creative genius, you say? Have no fear: Creators have to ability to share their creations via Access Keys, which allow other players to browse their creations and use them in their own adventures. At long last, I can bring my dream of a showdown between Great Sage Twilight Sparkle and Dark Lord Mitch McConnell to life!

All this being said, there’s one glaring omission here (at least in the demo): Searching the old 3DS Mii database appears to be limited to looking through ‘Popular’ characters, which basically means the same ten characters recreated fifty different times. Where’s the search-by-name functionality the 3DS used to have? I’m hoping it’s just something they removed for the demo, because I’ll be really sad if we aren’t able to dig through the treasure trove of characters from the original game.

  • Transitioning from having a second screen as an interface can be tricky, but Nintendo’s had a lot of practice with its many Wii U ports, and the game mostly survives the loss of its second screen (yes, the map is useless, but it was mostly useless in the original game anyway). Unfortunately, the one issue I’ve encountered is a big one: In battle, what used to be a quick button press to pause the action to use your HP/MP sprinkles or the safe spot is now a two-step process, which means that instead of stopping immediately, you usually have to wait for a character to complete another action before you can register your decision. It wasn’t a big deal at this stage of the game, but what the fights toughen up and you need to make quick decisions rightthisveryminute, the delay could wind up being the difference between a close victory and a frustrating defeat. I really wish Nintendo had mapped these actions to a button like ZL or ZR to mimic the speedy response of the original game.
  • Overworld, battle, and inn actions are basically the same as before, with the only real addition being “Outing” tickets. These are really just a fleshed-out version of the Jolly Jaunt tickets from the 3DS game (which are still here for some reason): Two inn roommates go off for some fun time at a ticket-specified location (a cafe, a beach, a fishing hole, etc.), a brief-but-usually-entertaining cutscene will occur, and the characters’ bond will grow (and they might get some useful souvenirs in the process, such as grub or recovery items). I’m all for seeing characters interact more often, but I don’t feel it adds a ton to the game.
Hi ho Silver, away!
  • The new horse gets shoehorned into the very end of the demo, but I suppose it’s a decent addition: They’re nearly as customizable as the Miis, they can occasionally help you in battle (and apparently go on outings and form bonds with your team as well), and at the very least they don’t detract anything from the game. However, I’m curious to see how they might work them into the story later on in the adventure.

Overall, I’d call the transition to the big screen a successful one, and despite knowing exactly what was waiting around every corner, I was just as excited to play the game as I was four years ago. I wasn’t sure it would be much of a draw on the Switch, but with the secret sauce that is the new and improved Mii customizer (who would’ve thought that Breath of the Wild‘s Mii setup was just a beta for this game?), I could actually see this making some noise on the sales charts. The demo is admittedly limited, but the world winds up being much bigger (and the story a bit more complex) than you expect, and the interactions between your characters remain as amusing as ever. Look for my official ‘is it worth buying now?’ review after the game drops next month!

Beyond The Meme: A Defense of the Tenta Brella

They say to go big or go home, and we’ve already been home for a year, so…

I’ve played a lot of Splatoon 2 over the last few years, and if I’m known for anything in this game, it’s my bizarre brella shenanigans, mostly involving the Undercover Brella family. However, there’s a supersized version of this weapon class, and in my ongoing quest to become at least semi-competent with every weapon the game has to offer, I’ve been forced to confront my many nemeses: Sloshers, brushes, nozzlenoses, scoped chargers, and the Tenta Brella, a cross between Reinhardt’s shield, Symmetra’s photon barrier, and Joe Biden’s shotgun.

What I’ve discovered during this journey is that you can get at least some utility out of just out any weapons (provided you can find a controller that isn’t drifting; forget about using chargers otherwise). While this has only earned most of the weapons in my doghouse my begrudging respect (okay okay, I suppose the Kensa Sloshing Machine can slay out and the E-liter can zap people from across the map), I actually enjoyed my time with the Tenta Brella, even if I needed a bunch of ice and ibuprofen for my aching trigger finger after every session. The weapon still remains a bit of a meme within the community (it’s comically big, comically slow, and really hard to play well), time, practice, and a steady stream of buffs have convinced people to take a chance with the big brella, and even made it a viable weapon choice in competitive play.

Still…it’s a giant freaking tent on a stick. Can we really take it seriously? I believe the answer is yes, and it starts with the right approach.

The Details

There are three different Tenta Brellas kits available, but all share the following characteristics:

  • A seven-pellet scattershot launch that has decent range and painting ability, but fires with such a wide spray that it’s really hard to confirm kills unless they’re at point-blank range or you have exceptional accuracy. A one-hit kill is possible, but a two-hit KO is more likely, and three or four shots might be needed if you can’t square up your opponent.
  • A massive shield that has lots of health (700 HP, 200 more than the regular Splat Brella) and takes up a lot of space, and inks a nice wide path forward when it detaches from the weapon.
  • A glacially-slow fire rate (35 frames, compared with 16 for other Brella types) and the ink efficiency of a early-2000s Hummer (11% of your ink tank per shot!),
  • As a heavyweight weapon, it reduces your run speed by 8.3% and your swim speed by 10%.

As we can see, unlike the N-Zap (which does everything moderately well), the Tenta Brella has a lot of peaks and valleys in its attributes, which means we can’t just toss it into any situation and expect it to perform well. Thus, getting the most out of this weapon boils down to three things: preparation, positioning, and playstyle.

STOP! …Hammer time. (Image from Squid Research Lab Tumblr)

The Flavors

The Tenta Brellas comes with three different kits:

  • Tenta Brella (Squid Beakon/Bubble Blower): The original, and probably the most balanced of the three kits. Bubble Blower gives you a solid option for initiating a push into an area (think a rush to the basket in Clam Blitz or a zone retake in Splat Zones), and the weapon actually does a decent job of popping the bubbles by itself. The most effective way to deploy your special is through the use of what Etce calls “The Tech”: Deploying your brella shield and then unleashing your bubbles from behind it, forcing the enemy to work around both to hold the area and take your down. The beacons help you hold an area once you get it by cutting down the travel time from spawn, a useful trick when you’re dealing with reduced movement speed.
  • Tenta Sorella Brella (Splash Wall/Curling Bomb Rush): I’m really not sure what the point of the Splash Wall is on this weapon. Why toss out something that’s going to eat 60% of your ink tank when you’re already going to have trouble managing your ink supply, especially when you’ve got a mobile wall attached to your main weapon? There’s probably a use for it, but I haven’t found it yet. I have found a use for the curling bombs, however, and they represent another effective method for pushing into an area and forcing opponents to keep their distance.
  • Tenta Camo Brella: This is the most offensive-minded of the three kits, and quite possibly the best of them if you know what you’re doing (which I definitely don’t‚ÄĒmy hammer game is a bit too stiff to be effective). Ink mines provide a way to help hold ground and track opponents intent on invading your space, and the Ultra Stamp lets you go on a short-range rampage while also providing a long-range threat to weapons that outrange you (it’s all fun and games until you toss your stamp like an Olympian and fry a charger from a mile away).

In terms of the best modes for the weapons: I would say the Tenta Camo Brella is a good option for Rainmaker, where you can open up lanes for the Rainmaker with either your shield or your stamp, and track you opponent’s movements with Ink Mines. In contrast, the vanilla Tenta Brella is a solid Clam Blitz play, using your beakons to help with mobility and your bubbles to advance to the basket. Both the camo and vanilla versions are good choices for Splat Zones, with bubbles, mines, and beakons to get you to the zone and help you keep it.

Tower Control is a tougher sell for the Tenta Brella, since you don’t want to release your shield and leave yourself exposed while tower riding (maybe that’s where the Splash Wall could be useful?), but it might be useful for redirecting foes through sub-optimal routes with your shields and specials. Turf War can be tricky as well, since you’re encouraged to explore the map and your limited mobility will hurt your painting effectiveness.

In truth, the mode you run the Tenta Brella on probably matters less than the map: If you’ve got a map with a lot of tight spaces and long corridors (Camp Triggerfish, Port Mackerel, Moray Towers), you’ll have the advantage; if you’ve got a wide-open map with lots of ways around you (New Albacore Hotel, Snapper Canal, Shellendorf Institute), you may want to think twice.

The Gear

Choosing the right gear to mitigate the weaknesses of your weapon is key, and you’ve got plenty of holes to fill:

  • Ink Saver Main: This is incredibly important on a Tenta Brella‚ÄĒwe’re not quite at a “Run Speed Up on a splatling” level, but we’re close. Without any ISM, that 11% per shot adds up quickly, and you’re limited to just 9 shots before your tank runs out. Using 2 mains of ISM brings your ink consumption back on par with that of a regular Splat Brella, and took 13 shots to empty the tank when I tested it (adding another two ISM sub abilities upped the shot count to 14). Ink is at a premium with this weapon, so saving as much as you can is critical.
  • Ink Recovery Up: This can be useful too, as having none means it takes a looooong time to recover enough ink to fire a single shot when your tank is empty. I think ISM is probably more important, but a few subs (or even a main) of ink recovery wouldn’t hurt.
  • Ink Save Sub: None of these weapons have spammable sub weapons (in fact, you’ll likely never use the Splash Wall at all), so ISS isn’t all that helpful.
  • Run Speed Up/Swim Speed Up: To bring a heavyweight weapon back on par with “normal” weapons like a Splattershot, you’ll need roughly two subs of Run Speed Up and 1 main ability of Swim Speed Up. However, while this will help you get around, I wouldn’t say that either are a necessity. Instead, for lack of a better term, what I found more important when using the weapons was “pocket mobility,” or the ability to maneuver around quickly in a tight space, such as around your brella shield as it’s moving forward. Thus (at least in Turf War), I found a more important ability to be…
  • Ink Resistance: Normally I subscribe to ThatSrb2Dude’s “5 subs” theory (or at least three of those subs), and only run one sub of ink resistance on my weapons. With the Tenta Brella, however, I found myself getting bogged down a lot in enemy ink, especially when trying to reclaim an area by myself. By adding the Bucket Hat shown above, I was able to regain my vertical mobility (i.e., the ability to jump normally and quickly while moving through enemy ink), which helped me hop around to cover turf and avoid enemy shots (especially when the shield has been launched or is in those pre-launch frames after a shot).
  • Special Charge Up/Special Saver: At 200 points, Bubble Blower and Ultra Stamp can take a while to charge, so it’s worth considering a sub or two of Special Charge Up to speed up that process. If you find that you’re dying a lot, Special Saver can help you keep some of the hard work you’ve done charging that special.
  • Sub Power Up: This is specific to the vanilla Tenta Brella, because it can make your beakons much faster for your teammates. Just one sub will speed up the jump by nearly 12%, so on maps that are a mile from their respective Splat Zones, this can be a clutch add for your team (assuming they actually use the beakons, of course).
  • Special Power Up: In theory this increases the stamp/bomb rush duration and makes your bubbles larger/more deadly, but the improvements are pretty minimal (1 main gets you 12% bigger bubbles and about 6 tenths of a second more bomb/hammer time), so it’s probably not worth it given all the other bases you need to cover.
  • Object Shredder: This is a common option for bubble blower weapons, but unlike the Heavy Splatling Deco or Custom E-Liter 4K, I don’t find Object Shredder to be that useful on the vanilla Tenta Brella. By itself, the weapon will usually pop its own bubbles with two shots, and Object Shredder only occasionally cuts that number down to one. With so many other things to worry about, I’d skip this one.
  • Main Power Up: I mean, every other weapon uses it, so why not this one? MPU adds extra HP to your brella shield (one main gives it nearly 90 extra HP), so this one may require some research on your part: If you think your Brella shield is going down too quickly, trying adding an MPU sub or two and see what happens.

In summary, I’d say prioritize ink efficiency and mobility, add a few single subs that are always useful (Quick Super Jump, Bomb Defense Up DX), and tune the rest of your slots around your weapons and your game.

The Playstyle

Unless you’re a umbrella savant on the level of Kayotaso or Gene Kelly, you’re not going to be doing a lot of slaying with this weapon. Tenta Brella are meant to support their teammates in any way possible using the totality of their kit. Playing this weapon like it’s the Tetra Dualies will likely put you in a bad situation where you’ll be too slow to react to your opponent’s actions, so it’s best to be measured and deliberate with your playstyle.

When it comes to using a Tenta Brella, there are two key rules of thumb to follow:

  • Be hyper-aware of your positioning. Brellas are only protected from one side, so you need to watch your backside as your taking a position (especially in solo queue matches, because no one else is going to do it for you). Long, tight corridors are your friend, as they limit how your opponents can approach you (and the obvious route is blocked by a giant tent), but in a more open area you should always be looking for cover to work around (a bumper, a corner, or some other obstacle).
  • Channel your inner pushy Bro-Country singer and always make the first move. With a weapon this slow, you don’t want to be the one reacting to your opponent’s decisions. Instead, you need to dictate the parameters of the engagement by being proactive, forcing your adversary to make decisions on your terms. If you take the first shot, by the time the opponent makes their countermove you’ll already have your shield up and ready for it, and when said shield inevitably launches forward, you can prep for the retaliatory advance because there are only so many ways around your tent. If you’re dealing with a charger or splatling, fire your first shot into cover and wait for the brella to deploy before stepping out into the open, forcing them to figure out a way around or through the tent to get you.

Getting a feel for the timing of the Tenta Brella is essential. It takes .75 seconds to open after a shot and 5.67 to regenerate after it launches, and with your slow fire rate you’re very vulnerable if it’s not around. Make sure you take these times into account when you initiate an encounter, so you don’t jump immediately into the fray and die before your brella has a chance to protect you. (Keep in mind, however, that network latency can throw this timing off, and sometimes leads to you getting shot through your shield.) If you’re stuck in a bad, brella-less spot and can’t retreat, make use of that “pocket mobility” and break your opponents’ ankles with dodges and jumps until your shield comes back.

While other Brellas are best with the shield attached (otherwise a Splat Brella turns into the world’s slowest curling bomb), you should expect to launch your shield at every opportunity, and base your approach to a situation around this. Since your barrier is only a barrier to your opponent, when they inevitably go around your shield you can simply swim underneath it, keeping a wall between you two as necessary. You can also play mind games with a shield: Just because it’s launched in a certain direction doesn’t mean you have to follow it‚ÄĒif you’ve got enough ink around you, you can take another route to flank and try to catch your opponent napping, or you can simply disengage and retreat to safer ground.

Keeping tabs on your teammates is extremely important as well, because let’s be honest: Everyone could use a a giant piece of camping equipment in front of them as they make a move. The big brella makes you the ultimate wingman, and if you see a teammate trying to do something and think you can help, get in there and lend a hand! This is especially true if your teammate has left themselves exposed via a panicked inkjet launch or an ill-advised super jump‚ÄĒa well-timed shield deployment could mean the difference between life and death. You can’t save them all the time, but you can save them some of the time, and sometimes that’s enough to make a difference.

Of course, there’s one potential downside you have to be aware of…

About that…any enemy bombs that hit your shield will explode on contact, and if you or any of your teammates on the wrong side of the shield when it happens, you’re toast. As with most things in life, please brella responsibly. ūüėČ

The Conclusion

The Tenta Brella has a lot going for it, and if you can find a way to mitigate the downsides, you can get some serious value from it in nearly any context. While I will always and forever be an Undercover Brella partisan, I’ve come to respect what the Tenta Brella has to offer as a weapon, enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how best to use it. If you wish to walk the same path, hopefully some of this can assist you on your journey.

Now if only a Tenta Brella could protect me from Travis Denning’s latest single…

What Can We Expect For Splatoon 3? And What Do I Want Anyway?

“Knowing You,” Kenny Chesney, I’d rather talk about something that’s much more interesting.

Those who have followed the blog and/or my Twitter feed for a while know that I do two things in life: Listen to country music, and play Splatoon (often at the same time, which leads to some bizarre juxtapositions of sound and action; imagine racking up double-digit kills in an intense match while listening to “Last Cheater’s Waltz”). With over 2,300 hours and 4 X ranks in Splatoon 2, I’m probably more-qualified to discuss that game than I am to dissect anything Thanos has dropped in the last year, and so I was understandably hyped when Splatoon 3 appeared in last month’s Nintendo Direct.

I made some brief remarks about Splatoon 3 in that last post, but since I’m incapably of briefly doing anything (these song reviews seem to get longer every month…), I’d like to dig a bit deeper into the possibilities offered by Splatoon 3, and what we might expect from the game when it launches next year.

The Lore

To reflect the victory of Team Chaos in the “final” Splatoon 2 Splatfest, the focus of Splatoon 3 moves away from Inkopolis and over to the city of Splatsville and the harsh terrain of the surrounding Splatlands. There’s been a lot of excited speculation about the prospects of exploring a ruined civilization, but I think this is a bit misguided: Squid/octoling society is likely just as it was in Splatoon 2, with Inkopolis still standing and several fan-favorite maps from the first two games likely returning. (We’ll talk more about returning maps later, but if you think Moray Towers won’t be back next year, you’re crazier than I am.)

Instead, I’m most intrigued by the human angle of the story: We’re already canon in the game as an ancient race that went extinct due to “a climate apocalypse,” but that upside-down Eiffel Tower in the S3 reveal trailer suggests there might be a lot more to that story, and the developers are ready to tie this world a lot more closely with ours. So what does that mean for us?

  • It means the single-player environments are going to get a lot more recognizable. If the Eiffel Tower’s there, expect some more famous landmarks to be thrown in: The pyramids of Egypt? The Roman Coliseum? The Taj Mahal? Whether or not the campaign will be open-world or not, chances are we’ll be traipsing through more-familiar scenes. (They’d better include a Willie Nelson doppelg√§nger here, because you know he’ll still be alive twelve million years from now.)
  • It likely means the single-player levels will be a lot more “realistic,” for lack of a better term. The levels in Splatoon and Splatoon 2 were mostly floating-block sequences reminiscent of Mario Galaxy, but if this game is going to resemble the real world, then the levels are going to be more natural-looking, or at least have more platforms that obey the laws of physics (and fewer giant Game Boys floating in space).
  • I’m very curious to see how the designers expand on the human-extinction angle. Splatoon 2 has only been out since 2017, but a lot has happened since then, and if Nintendo wasn’t afraid to hide climate change in the background before, I wonder if they’ll broach subjects like the rise of authoritarianism and the possibility of a public health crisis in their Sunken Scrolls.
Image from Nintendo Life

I’m also intrigued by our new “little buddy” Salmonid that tags along with the protagonist through the first half of the trailer. Octolings went from enemy to playable character in Splatoon 2, but does this suggest a similar transition for Salmonids in Splatoon 3? While I doubt this (there’s just no obvious parallel to Inklings, unless “Salmonlings” become a thing), I wonder if there will a Mandalorian angle to the story: There could be something special about this Smallfry, and we must transport it across the desolate landscapes to its home far, far away. (The origins of Salmonids are completely undefined right now, so there’s a lot of world-building potential here.)

Much of this won’t translate to the multiplayer modes, but the single-player campaigns have been a surprising strength for the series (even if Splatoon 2‘s original campaign was the carbon copy of Splatoon‘s), so I’m looking forward to what this mode has to offer.

If the Undercover Brella doesn’t come back, I’m review-bombing this game on Metacritic.

The Gear

From a weapon standpoint, many of the existing classes were confirmed in the trailer (shooter, rollers, blasters, chargers, sloshers, splatlings – no dualies or brellas though, at least not yet), the headline was easily the introduction of the Splat Bow that can fire a trio of shots at an opponent. It’s hard to say how they weapon will behave without much gameplay, but the inking power of its shots in the trailer looked pretty minimal, so I’m guessing it will have a fairly long range to compensate, similar to a Splattershot Pro or H-3 Nozzlenose (or perhaps even charger-length?).

We saw a number of weapons get visual redesigns in the trailer (Splattershot, .96 Gal, Range Blaster, E-liter), but given how balanced the meta seems to be in competitive play right now, I doubt we’ll see a ton in terms of weapon stat changes (although the bow might shake things up a little). Just as with Splatoon 2, we’ll likely get a mixture of old favorites and new kits to play around with, and as much as I don’t like the game’s slow rollout of weapons (1-2 a week over many months), it seems to help maintain interest in the game over the long term, so I’m guessing we’ll see more of the same in Splatoon 3.

In terms of sub weapons…well, we don’t really see them at all in the trailer. In truth, I think there’s not a ton of room for improvement here: We have sprinklers, we have mines, we have bombs of every kind, we have sensors, we have walls, we have beacons big and small…outside of reimagining Toxic Mist, I think the sub weapons are in a good place.

The bigger question is the rest of the available gear (headgear, outfits, footwear). Games like this need a consistent stream of new content to keep players engaged, but with so much gear already available in Splatoon 2, I wonder if the franchise will run into a Pok√©mon problem: Every new game will have some shiny new gear to get peoples’ attention, but if every old shirt or kicks develops a dedicated group of fans that demand its inclusion, we’ll just end up with a bunch of gear that barely anyone uses that will eventual get cut and draw the usual ire on social media. Clothing items aren’t Pok√©mon, however, and Nintendo’s no stranger to absorbing slings and arrows online (hey, they ended up getting away with it in Pok√©mon Sword and Shield), so hopefully this won’t be a problem.

Something that would help cushion the blow of lost gear is the complete de-coupling of abilities from gear: Any ability should be able to appear as a main or sub ability on any clothing item (although there may be some that are locked to main-only or sub-only). We’ve already got this functionality through Annie’s gear shop on SplatNet, but it should be incorporated into the main game and made as easy as possible (perhaps you can choose your main ability when you buy something, and be able to change it as many times as you want for a fee?)

What about new abilities for gear? There’s definitely room for improvement on this front (Bomb Defense Up DX still seems like its trying too hard to justify its existence, and Main Power Up feels over-represented in the current meta), but I don’t think the developers have to go too crazy here. Maybe movement enhancers for the new ‘squid roll’ and ‘squid surge’ techniques? Honestly, I think we mostly get more of the same in Splatoon 3, and I’m fine with that.

Finally, we have the eternal question of special weapons: Do we wipe the slate clean like we did for Splatoon 2, or mix some new ideas with some old favorites? So far, Splatoon 3 seems to be doing the latter: A reworked Inkzooka has prominent placement in the trailer, and what looks to be a multi-Stingray can be seen as well (its origin is obscured, but I wonder if it’s the crab robot that appears later?). While I constantly raise the question of reviving Echolocator, I mostly haven’t missed the original specials from Splatoon, so I’m content to see how the game designers decide to mix things up this time around.

Image from Nintendo

Game Modes

I know people are predicting new game modes for Splatoon 3, but from the standpoint of the main multiplayer game, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t get one. Splatoon 2 didn’t add Clam Blitz until late in 2017 (and we’ve all been complaining about it ever since), so my guess is that we stick with the five primary modes we’ve got right now: Turf War, Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Clam Blitz. (I know ThatSrb2Dude examined some of the unused modes from Splatoon 2, but neither of them look viable to me.) That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some changes to the existing modes: I feel like a lot of people complain about the volatility of Rainmaker matches, so maybe they do something to significantly slow your movement speed when you’re carrying the Rainmaker around. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a new Ranked mode added later in the game’s lifecycle.

Instead, what I’d like to see is some cross-pollination between the current modes:

  • For Ranked modes, I’d like to see some less-competitive options available for players who don’t want to stress about their ranking, perhaps along the lines of the For Fun/For Glory split in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I enjoy ranked battles, but I don’t enjoy how salty I get from extended losing streaks, so I think being able to play the game in a no-stakes, Turf War-like atmosphere would be much more fun.
  • For Turf War, I’m honestly ambivalent about the idea of making it a formal Ranked mode, but I’d like to see some League Battle functionality migrate to the mode‚ÄĒspecifically, the ability to form teams with your friends rather than being randomly tossed in to play with or against them. Getting only one or two matches together with a friend after a hour of playing can be a bit demoralizing, and I’d like to see us get the ability to play as duo or quartets (and trios too! If they can do it for Salmon Run, they can do it here).

Speaking of Salmon Run: If not salmon hunting, then some kind of horde mode needs to be in Splatoon 3. Given the dedicated community that has built up around the mode, I’d not like to see this mode continue, I want the bizarre availability restrictions of the mode removed, so people can play it whenever they want rather than only at specific times. Set up a map/weapon rotation system similar to that in regular Ink Battles (but on a longer timeframe; perhaps a day or two), get out of the way, and let the salmon runners run! Also, instead of continuously resetting scores to Profreshional 400, I’d like to see another higher rank option in the mode for those that can reach 999, similar to X-rank in regular Ranked Mode, or at least give them a little badge or something that they can show off for being an elite salmon player.

Could we see a new mode along the lines of Salmon Run? It’s hard to say: Perhaps an escort-like mode where a Rainmaker-esque object through an winding course against a varying number of enemies? My imagination fails me at this point, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

(And yes, Splatfests are coming back. Not bringing them back would be madness.)

Finally…how about the game let us make our own game modes? Instead of shoehorning a game like Hide & Seek into a Ranked mode, give us granular controls for Private Battles that let us play the game the way we want to. Also, how about making a public option for health care Private Battles, so that these custom games could be opened up to the masses? In other words, I’m for anything that helps people play the game the way they want to.

Image from Fandom.com

Maps

My attempt at map predictions for Splatoon 2 turned out pretty badly, so I’m not going to even try anything like that here. Still, there are some obvious candidates for readmission to Splatoon 3: Moray Towers remains wildly popular, and Wahoo World has become the map for ranked tournament matches, so to not bring them back would be lunacy.

In terms of “retro” maps, the one map I’d like to see return from Splatoon is probably Flounder Heights. No other map features the sort of vertical setup that Flounder does (Moray Towers drops in elevation as you reach the middle, while Flounder rises), so it might lead to some exciting playstyles when tossed into the Splatoon 3 meta. Bluefin Depot is a possibility as well, although I hear complaints about Camp Triggerfish’s split setup, so maybe not.

A new Salmon run map is also likely, and my off-the-wall idea would be something in between Shellendorf Institute and the Lost Outpost: A multi-level structure that players would explore inside as the tide got lower. Regardless, expect there to be more options for this mode, regardless of what form it takes.

Other Additions

  • I was asking for “player rooms” all the way back in 2017, and I’m getting some strong vibes that they might actually be coming to Splatoon 3 (especially given the way apartment buildings tower over Splatsville). It’s yet another fun customization option that players have been begging for (and frankly, the more Animal Crossing features that end up in Splatoon, the better).
  • Player reporting needs to be available through the main game, and not exclusively through the smartphone app. There should be as few barriers as possible to reporting morons who use offensive usernames.
  • Speaking of player toxicity: I’ve noticed a sharp rise in taunting, griefing, and other toxic behavior in Splatoon 2, and I’d like to see Nintendo do more to try to combat it. Here’s a suggestion: Mute all the audio but the ambient music after you die, so you can just pull up the map and not see or hear someone squid-taunting you in your death cam.
  • Precedent says we’ll get another Inkling amiibo triplet with Splatoon 3‘s release, but what about another amiibo set? I’ve already argued for a Grizzco-themed set that gives us the uniform items (we’ve only got the hat now), and our new little buddy from the trailer would look perfect as a plastic figure, don’t you think?
  • If there’s one thing I think the game already gets right, it’s the ability to mix-and-match any character with any hairstyles. There’s no reason to lock a style behind a gender, and I’m hoping more games will follow Nintendo’s lead.

At this point, I’m out of both ideas and breath, but I’m still overflowing with hype for Splatoon 3. Any way you slice it, I think we’re in for a treat when the game releases in 2022, and I can’t wait to learn more about it in 2021.

My (Belated) Reaction to the February 2021 Pok√©mon Presentation

Sorry Caitlyn Smith and Old Dominion, but the pairing I want to discuss today is Dawn & Lucas.

During Nintendo’s recent Direct presentation, there was a conspicuous lack of information regarding the Pok√©mon franchise, and while this wasn’t a huge surprise (The Pok√©mon Company likes to do its own thing which it comes to big reveals), it still seemed a little awkward to have the franchise completely unrepresented during its 25th anniversary (at least Zelda got Skyward Sword and new Joy-Cons for its 35th). As expected, a new Pok√©mon-centric presentation was announced soon afterwards, aiming to lay out the company’s plans for the entire year.

Pok√©mon announcements seem like they’re better known for the anger they generate than the joy, and I’ve been more than a little ambivalent on some of the recent games (Sword and Shield would up just feeling okay, and the less said about the Let’s Go series, the better), so I tried to go in with my eyes wide open and my expectations sufficiently tempered. Therefore, it will come as no surprise that my overall reaction to the presentation…was that I loved everything about it? Not literally everything, of course (that retrospective intro was way too long and not interesting enough to justify its time), but the game announcements left me feeling surprisingly positive, even regarding some of the non-gameplay details that were revealed. While I fully admit that this was a presentation targeted directly at series veterans like myself, aiming your weapon and actually hitting the shot are two very different things (trust me, I’ve flailed around with enough chargers in Splatoon to know), and The Pok√©mon Company put together a nearly-flawless run here.

My individual thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • New Pok√©mon Snap: While I have absolutely zero interest in playing this game, I know a lot of people who are very excited for the sequel to the N64 original (now over twenty years old?!), and from what I saw, this is a faithful recreation of its predecessor’s gameplay. The visuals are exquisite, the terrain is varied and lively, a diverse array of monsters are here (although we’ll likely only get a fraction of the total Pok√©dex – if they couldn’t fit them all in Sword and Shield, they probably won’t be able to do it here either), and there appears a decent potential for action scenes (although how repetitive they may get remains to be seen). The Illumina orbs are a nice addition, as they give the player more options for pictures while also making nighttime shots a bit more viable, and after making such a big deal out of photo modes in Super Mario Odyssey and Super Mario 3D World, the mode returns here for perhaps its most fitting title. (The on thing that confused me was that photo-sharing was only mentioned in a specific setting, likely tied to the Switch Online app, rather than more widely via traditional social media; however, the Switch already has decent photo sharing capabilities, so it shouldn’t be too hard to glam up your ‘Gram with Pikachu highlights.) This is a game that appears to know its audience and delivers exactly what they want, so I expect to see decent sales from the game when it releases in late April.
  • Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl: First, a disclaimer: G4 remains my favorite generation of the Pok√©mon franchise, and I’ve probably sunk more hours into Pearl than the other games combined. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the remakes for these games ever since Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire appeared, and at long last they’re finally here! Contrary to most of the Internet, I don’t mind the Link’s Awakening-esque art style of the remake‚ÄĒit’s a faithful recreation of the original cities and landscapes, and from the typical top-down perspective of the game, you barely notice the change at all. (If there’s one thing I would have done differently, I wouldn’t have started the gameplay with a closeup shot of the player character, as it made the style change a bit more jarring than it needed to be.) Sure, it’s a very different look than Sword and Shield, and certain mechanics such as visible monsters are removed, but there were definitely times where I missed the mystery of the random encounters (especially when you’re thinking about future Nuzlocke runs), and I was never that enraptured by the G8 graphical style (or that of any Pok√©mon game, to be honest). This is a simple nostalgia trip for people who enjoyed the classic style of Pok√©mon gameplay, and I’m ready to book my ticket. (The only questions: What sort of post-game content will we get, and is there any way to top the Zinnia battle from Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire?)
  • ILCA: Game Freak has been the lead developer of every Pok√©mon game up to this point, so it was a shock to see the reins of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl handed to a different studio‚ÄĒin this case, ILCA, a studio whose only previous experience with the franchise has been working on Pok√©mon Home. It can be a bit nerve-wracking when a new team takes the lead on one of your favorite franchises, but I’m excited for this development for two reasons: The game is a remake with a already-written script (just follow the instructions, right?), and it frees Game Freak up to do something a little more ambitious, which brings us to…
  • Pok√©mon Legends Arceus: As a series, Pok√©mon is caught between a rock and a hard place: If they crank out the same game with the same basic formula and minimal improvements, they’re criticized for being stale; if they act boldly and try to reimagine the series, they’re criticized for messing with a formula that everyone knew and loved. With the announcement of the Legends series, however, Game Freak (now newly freed from the Diamond/Pearl remakes) gets a chance to safely thread the needle and experiment with Pok√©mon’s core gameplay is a safe (okay, maybe just relatively safer) environment. The introduction of the Wild Area in G8 led people to speculate about a full open-world experience in the next generation (including a certain individual who proclaimed “I‚Äôd like to see Nintendo and company take it to the next level in G9”), and Legends seems to be a bold step in that direction (it looks like Breath of the Wild with Pok√©mon tossed in). Sure, seeing monsters running at approximately 60 frames per hour was awkward, but the team has a year or so to iron out all the glitches, and with rumors of a Switch pro once again heating up, perhaps Nintendo will be providing them some hardware backup. From the brief glimpse of the trailer, this looks like a solid mashup of both classic battle mechanics and Pok√©mon Go-like capture mechanics, and honestly, I’ve always thought the Sinnoh region would be a perfect place to set a game like this (I can’t wait to climb Mt. Coronet). I’m sure Legends will be a good game, but I consider this more of a development environment for G9, and I’m excited to see what the Pok√©mon team tries here, and what innovations wind up in the next-gen mainline games.

Overall, I think this presentation was a big win for both Nintendo and The Pok√©mon Company, because there’s something for everyone: The staunch traditionalists, the boundary pushers, the side-series enthusiasts, and everyone in between. 2021 is shaping up to be a banner year for Nintendo (and with Splatoon 3 and Pok√©mon Legends Arceus, 2022 looks pretty great too), and for someone who was beginning to wonder if they were drifting away from the series, these are some pretty convincing reasons to stick around.

Now if only The Legend Of Zelda would get a bit more TLC this year…

Project Triangle Strategy: Early Impressions

I expected to be a sword-swinging superstar in this game, but I didn’t think I’d have to be Joe Biden too!

Project Triangle Strategy was announced during Nintendo’s recent Direct presentation, and as someone who enjoyed the game’s HD-2D predecessor Octopath Traveler (despite its lack of a unifying storyline), I was more than ready to dive into Square Enix’s initial demo. The game promised an intriguing storytelling experience shaped by the decisions you made along the way, and while the demo didn’t provide a ton of insight into how different paths might diverge, in its place it offered some solid gameplay, a great storyline, and a surprising amount of deep thought but make me very interested in seeing where this game goes in the future.The game, however, feels highly tuned to a niche audience, and while the combat was accessible and easy to grasp, anyone who isn’t looking to be a master strategist or Biden-esque dealmaker may find the game a bit too slow and repetitive for their tastes. I enjoyed the demo and I think existing tactical RPG will as well, but I’m not sure that folks who aren’t familiar with the genre would get the same joy out of it.

Image from Jason Schreier

Unlike Bravely Default II, Project Triangle Strategy is a tactical RPG experience more along the lines of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, with engagements taking place on a grid and characters moving around to find a strategic advantage on the field. While FE: 3H had player, enemy, and ally phases to each “turn,” things are a bit more chaotic here, with both good and bad characters interwoven into a continuous chain of actions based on their speed stat. (The game provides an optional-but-helpful numbering system during battle that shows everyone’s position in line, so you can quickly tell who’s about to act and who will be waiting a while.) Terrain can one again make or break your strategy: While cover doesn’t seem to exist, elevation modifiers are more common (being on higher ground grants you attack bonuses), and using elemental attacks like fire, ice, and electricity can affect both enemies and the surrounding terrain (for example, fire will keep burning a square for some time). The actual combat, however, feels a bit more straightforward: The rock-paper-scissors weapon triad of FE:3H is not present, and while certain characters may be weak to certain attacks, most attack/defense combinations appear to be neutral, allowing you to focus on your approach rather your specific attack. (The type of attack you use matters less than your positioning when you use it: In addition to terrain bonuses, attacking an opponent from behind will deal more damage, and attacking an opponent when they’re stuck between you and another character will cause the second character to toss in an attack too.)

Instead of standard magic points, special attacks use a “TP” system: Every turn you gain one tactical point, and each of your special attacks will require spending 1-3 of your points to use. It was an interesting system because it allowed you to store up points for when you needed them instead of always waiting for a cooldown, but it also created a strange incentive system in battle: You don’t get experience points unless you do something more than move in a turn, so you were also tempted to use a character’s passive abilities in non-battle situations to help them grow, even if you might need those TP later. (It was super annoying to set up the enemy for a devastating magic attack, then miss the moment because Frederica needed another turn to charge up her spell, which happened to me a few times.) Overall, however, I found the battle system to be both intuitive and thought-provoking, and I had a blast laying a smackdown on my foes.

I hope the description of combat above sounded fun, because at least in the demo, that’s pretty much all you can do, and you spend a lot of time doing it. (Seriously, these battles take a looooong time: I completed just two in over five hours.) While FE: 3H at least gave you a monastery to explore and a few small minigames to try out, Triangle Strategy gives you three things: Battles, small exploration areas, and congressional debates (more on that later). The game is even more cutscene-dependent than BD2, and while it’s understandable that tactical RPGs will be slower than standard turn-based ones, the game spends forever fleshing out the story and impressing the stakes of the game onto the player. Worse still, there weren’t any real side quests in the demo: You can click around and see how your actions play in different locales, but aside from occasionally picking up an extra character or two (I got to meet Medina from that Trent Willmon song), it was just more cutscenes to sit through. While I found them enlightening, it felt like a clumsy way to deliver the message (although I suppose it allowed people to easily skip them if they wanted).

Thankfully, the story is more than worth diving into, even despite uncreative names like the ‘Saltiron War.’ A trio of kingdoms rules the land of Norzelia, and after the Aesfrosti forces overthrow the king on neighboring Glenbrook, it’s up to you to figure out what to do about it. The intrigue of the land runs deep (for example, the main villian was about to become your brother-in-law), and the castle escape sequence and subsequent defense preparations for your homeland made for a gripping tale. (Unfortunately, for a sprite-based art style, the game has a habit of showing off some overly-convincing pools of blood when someone dies, a touch of gore that felt jarring and unnecessary.) The character designs are solid and well-developed and their interactions can be engaging, but there’s no one here that’s quite as memorable as the students of Garreg Mach (there’s no equivalent of folks like Bernadetta or Claude, at least not yet).

Image from GamesRadar

The game has been particularly keen about hyping up its “conviction” mechanic: The decisions you make during the game will influence the direction of the story, as well as who may or may not seek to join your side. While the demo doesn’t give us a ton of insight into this metric (I guess Medina may have only joined me because of it, but it’s hard to say), you do get a glimpse of an unusual aspect of the game: Voting on important decisions, and influencing your fellow team members to do what you want (you can finally embrace your inner politician!). In the demo, you’re presented with a major decision: Defend the prince who fled the city with you, or turn them over to the bad guys. It seems like an easy decision, but the game tries its hardest to make you think about it, with a lot of talk about how your forces will be outclassed and outmanned, and about how many innocent people may lose their lives and/or homes. (It also puts many of your comrades on the ‘give the prince up’ side initially, including the prince himself, and you’re bound by the majority decision even if you vote against it.) It’s something that I’ve never seen a game do to this extent, and it makes a laudable effort to make you think about both sides of the argument…but in the end, you’re the protagonist and battling is what the game is all about, and so you can channel your inner negotiator by gathering information from the surrounding town and using it to convince your comrades to join you in the fight. (In the end, nearly everyone ended up voting with me, with Benedict playing the role of Rand Paul and casting the lone dissenting vote. Who says bipartisanship is dead?) While the mechanic is an intriguing idea, I’ll need to see more of it in action before I can really judge it.

On the whole, I found Project Triangle Strategy to be a fun and engaging battle/RPG experience with the potential to be much more, and while I wouldn’t recommend that it be your first foray into the genre (Fire Emblem: Three Houses seems a bit more user-friendly, at least with permadeath turned off), if you enjoyed FE: 3H, I’d recommend giving this demo a try as well. It’ll be a while before we get the full version of the game (it shares a 2022 release date with Splatoon 3), so I’m looking forward to seeing more from the game and discovering how Square Enix uses these ideas to put a fresh spin on an old formula.

Bravely Default II: Early Impressions

I’ve been a sucker for role-playing games ever since I first rented Super Mario RPG and stuck it in my Super Nintendo (yes, I know, I’m old). Give me a solid battle system with a semi-deep story and the promise of character progression, and I am there. However, I was a bit late to the 3DS party back in the day, and wound up missing Bravely Default‘s debut. Thankfully, like seemingly every other gaming franchise in existence, Bravely Default is getting reintroduced to the masses through the Nintendo Switch, and instead of going the easy port route, Square Enix is delivering a full-blown sequel in the form of Bravely Default II (not to be confused with 2015’s Bravely Second).

As part of its pre-launch push, Square Enix released an initial demo last March right around the time the world fell apart due to the coronavirus pandemic, and then dropped a clean-up “final” demo late in the year. With the game releasing today, I figured now was as good a time as any to give the demo a try and see if the game could fill that RPG void that had been empty since the end of Dragon Quest Builders 2. What I got was an intriguing but uneven experience from a game that seemed to try to cram every RPG mechanic ever devised into a single title, and while I enjoyed the game, I wouldn’t recommend it as a gateway to the genre.

The BD2 final demo only gives you five hours to hurry through the campaign, but the story hooked me pretty fast (even though I had mostly forgotten the overall plot of the game from the original trailer). The kingdom of Musa has been destroyed and its precious plot devices elemental crystals stolen, and you have to lead a team of four intrepid heroes (why they team up is left unspecified) on a mission to reclaim the lost treasures. The story came across as a bit cookie-cutter at first, but it got much more interesting as the intrigue and interactions starting happening (who got saved, who got shafted, etc.) and the characters (especially Anihal) gained a lot of depth over time. While I’d heard complaints about the voice acting in other previews, I actually found that the voices gave the characters some personality and charm, helping cover for the lack of a truly cohesive backstory. In addition to the crystals, however, there are also Asterisks, which are never really explained beyond their ability to unlock roles (mages, fighters, thieves, bards, etc.) for your characters to take on. I got two of these (bard and beastmaster) through winning boss battles in the demo, but ended up sticking with the default main/sub jobs that the characters started with.

The first thing that hits you when playing the demo is just how…complex the mechanics are. The game gives you an incredible amount of customization options for your characters (main jobs, sub-jobs, abilities, weapon proficiencies) as well as a number of possible actions to take in battle (physical attacks, offensive/defensive magic, items, and of course the Brave/Default ability to either store up actions or borrow against future ones to let you act multiple times in a turn), and while I normally enjoy this sort of creative freedom, it honestly felt a little off-putting here, even though it really isn’t much different then what you might find in, say, Octopath Traveler. (The sheer number of ‘memories,’ i.e. tutorial documents that explain all the various mechanics, should have been an early warning sign.) Unlike OT, you don’t get Brave points automatically – you’ve got to deliberately pause and store them up to future-proof your strategy, and for a ham-handed ‘see ball, hit ball’ tactician like myself, this was harder than I thought. (And then there’s the frustrating way your battle entrance impacts the battle: If you’re lucky and run into an enemy from behind, you’ll sometimes get an initiative boost, but this felt inconsistent at best, and if the enemy saw you and had any momentum when it caught you, it would gain initiative even when you were running directly at them.) There’s a real chess-match feel to the combat, especially when the enemies not only have access to the same Brave/Default mechanic you do (reminiscent of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle), but also have the HP reserves to burn a few turns while you’re constantly trying to keep your party upright. I also wasn’t a fan of the ‘weight’ mechanic: Instead of being able to load up with the latest and greatest gear, you had a carrying capacity that would crush your stats if you exceed it, so you had to be super careful when choosing your character loadout, which added more annoyance to the game rather than strategy. Having so many options can be a bit overwhelming when you only get a few hours to experiment with them, so I’m hoping that getting more time with the game will make everything fit better and seem more intuitive.

Another thing you’ll notice is that the game’s pace is slow, even from an RPG perspective. These sorts of games are rarely known for their action, but the frequent cut scenes and use of voice acting makes it feel like you’re standing around more often than you’re in motion. As someone who loves getting swept up in a story, I didn’t have a problem with this, but for gamers looking for a bit more action, I imagine all these static moments would get old quickly. While the early demo was criticized for its difficulty, the moments of action here felt a bit more inconsistent. Random encounters were not that hard to brute-force your way through, but boss battles turned into twenty-minute-long affairs in which enemies would max out their Brave capacity and unload several consecutive attacks, decimating your party and forcing your healers to play proactive defense for the entire match. (If your health bar wasn’t full, you weren’t safe, and even when it was full you were only a nasty triple combo away from a team wipe.) I managed to beat Orpheus in on shot, but the Anihal battle took me three attempts and one irritated Google search to get through (pro tip: poison her early and hang on tight). These sorts of long, drawn-out near-misses are the kinds of things that will turn off anyone who isn’t totally committed, so I was very surprised to see such clumsy difficulty balancing.

Visually, the game has some nice 3D environments for you to explore (and even gives you full camera control in the overworld), and the character models have a clean, stylized look that you might expect from an RPG. Running around the world could be a bit slippery if you had always-run enabled (gotta make the most of your five hours!), but there were enough cues and markers to keep you oriented…with one annoying exception: There was no indicator for whether you could pass through a door or not. Instead, you just had to walk into the wall and hope that you went through it and could see the building interior. You got used to it, but it felt a bit jarring when seeming everything else around you offered a helpful hint that it could be interacted with. In terms of the music, it was…there, I guess? The battle theme was suitably energized, but everything else pulled a Chris Young and quickly went in one ear and out the other.

On the whole, Bravely Default II seems like an okay game, but when compared to a game like Octopath Traveler, what it gained in story cohesiveness it lost in battle mechanics, enough so that I think I would rank OT as the better game for now. Then again, I really didn’t appreciate OT until I got to play the full game either, so BD2 may grow on me as I get more time with it. To me, it’s the sort of game that seasoned RPG players will appreciate, but newer players might want to avoid in favor of something more straightforward (on that note, it’s long past time to bring Super Mario RPG to the Switch Online app). For now, I’ll be moving on to the Project Triangle Strategy demo, and I’m curious to see how that game compares to this one.

My Thoughts On The February 2021 Nintendo Direct

2020 threw everyone for a loop (to put it mildly), and Nintendo was not immune to the chaos: As the coronavirus sent developers to their home offices, new game development slowed considerably, and after Animal Crossing: New Horizons surged to unforeseen heights as people looked for virtual escapism, most of Nintendo’s major releases (Pok√©mon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Pikmin 3 Deluxe) were ports of older games, and their presentations were limited to mini Directs and game-specific showcases. (Yes, we got Paper Mario: The Origami King, but the less said about that game, the better.) With the supply chain struggling and the coronavirus vaccine slow to roll out, it looked like we would get more of the same in 2021.

Instead, Nintendo spread the word on Tuesday that a full-blown Nintendo Direct would be dropping the very next game, teasing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate-specific content while promising to lay out the Switch’s release schedule for the first half of the year. The announcement was well-received, but the questions remained: Could Nintendo deliver the goods after all this time, and after all that’s happened?

After watching the Direct, the answer turned out to be an emphatic “yes.” The Big N brought big news on several of its major and not-so-major franchises (as well as some highly-anticipated third-party games), and overdelivered on their promise by discussing games as far out as 2022! After what felt like a bit of a content drought at the end of 2020, the company laid a number of intriguing cards on the table as they kicked off the new year.

My specific thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • Nintendo didn’t mess around with the Smash Bros. reveal, leading off its presentation with the announcement that Pyra and Mythra from Xenoblade Chronicles would be the next fighters to join the battle. The announcement wasn’t a huge surprise (XC hadn’t had much representation in the game besides Shulk, and people have been clamoring for Rex and Pyra to be included for a while), but Pyra and Mythra are still a solid addition to the game, and their unique movesets and ability to swap freely should make for some really strategic gameplay. I’m not a Smash player, but I’m all in for this addition.
  • I’m not sure what to make of the Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout reveal for Switch. The game exploded on the Internet late last summer, but it fell back to Earth quickly and ultimately got its lunch eaten by Among Us. I’m sure it’s a decent game and all, but it’s fading fast – will a summer launch on Switch be too little, too late?
  • With the 3DS officially dead, it seems the Switch has decided to pick up the mantle as the RPG console, and it showed here: We got clips of Legend Of Mana, Monster Hunter Rise, Miitopia, Project Triangle Strategy, Bravely Default II, SaGa Frontier, and even some RPG elements in No More Heroes III and Mario Golf: Super Rush! I’m super hyped for many of these games (especially Miitopia, my 2017 Game of the Year), and I’ll hopefully have more to say on BD2 and Triangle Strategy once I try out their demos.
  • Speaking of Mario Golf: I haven’t played this series since MG: Toadstool Tour way back in the day, but that game was a lot of fun, and Super Rush looks to be a huge improvement. In addition to the classic golfing action, Speed Golf looks to add some seriously frenetic action (especially if you’re playing with friends, and especially especially if they’ve got decent online play), and a story mode that builds off of the acclaimed single-player mode from past titles. Mario Tennis Aces was a bit of a mixed bag based on the reviews, but MG: PR shows off a lot of potential, and I’m excited to check it out this June.
  • At much as I enjoyed Miitopia, I did NOT see it coming to Switch in a million years, but I’m super happy that it did (and not just because it means 3DS ports are just as much a possibility as Wii U ports are). I’ll never say no to more character customization options, and while I have no idea how they’re going to shoehorn a horse companion into the game, I’m all for anything that offers more options and/or assistance in battle (maybe now I can crush those pesky ham sandwiches!) The price tag ($50) ma feel a bit steep, but there’s a lot more content than you might think in the base game alone (which already $40 on the 3DS anyway), and who knows what else they might add? In other words, I’m excited enough to think about double-dipping for an HD remake.
  • I liked the Mario items in Animal Crossing: New Leaf enough that I recreated Mario and Luigi’s caps in the custom design app, so I’m happy to see the official versions return in AC: New Horizons as well. The warp pipes are a cool feature, especially for an island as hard to get around on as mine (always have your ladder handy), and they add a whimsical touch to an otherwise standard natural scene (or maybe that’s just my island because it’s overgrown with trees). AC:NH has done an admirable job holding my attention for nearly a year, and updates like these help ensure it’s keep us occupied for a while longer.
  • I liked Octopath Traveler enough to put it on my best-game list of 2018, so you better believe I’m ready for Project Triangle Strategy, bizarre working title and all. This game appears to be more of a tactical RPG experience similar to Final Fantasy Tactics and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, with some intriguing additions involving terrain interactions (burn it! soak it! shock it!) and a decision-driven “conviction” system that basically determines your character’s alignment and affects what might happen to you and what options you have available as the game progresses. I love the way it looks, and I’m excited to find out how it plays.
  • So, about Knockout City…I had fun with Super Dodgeball Advance back in the day, but this one looks like a cross between SBA and Fortnite, with your team working to knock the stuffing out of your opponents with standard dodgeballs and a few other interesting items (you can throw your teammates too?). I’ve watched a few gameplay videos on YouTube and it looks to be a fast-paced, chaotic experience, so if I get some breathing space among all these RPGs, I might have to try this one out.
  • Going into the presentation, there was a lot of speculation over what Nintendo would do for The Legend Of Zelda‘s 35th anniversary. Unlike with Mario, however, the anniversary was never actually mentioned in the presentation, and the obvious game to show (Breath of the Wild 2) was nowhere to be found. Instead, we got an Age of Calamity Expansion Pass, a full remake of Skyward Sword (which looks great, but isn’t a game I’m interested in), and some special Joy-Cons. Nintendo isn’t one to let something like this pass by, however, so expect a full anniversary presentation later this year.
  • Pok√©mon didn’t show up here despite its own anniversary either, but The Pok√©mon Company likes to do their own thing anyway, so expect a larger presentation from that franchise in the not-so-distant future. Let’s hope those Diamond/Pearl remake rumors are true!
  • And then there was “the last announcement for today”…
Image from Nintendo

I’d heard some predictions that new Splatoon content might be announced, but I had my doubts about it. In hindsight, I probably should have seen this coming: Online multiplayer games in this vein (Overwatch, PUBG, Fortnite) seem to have a much faster development cycle than other genres, constantly adding new features/items/abilities/etc. to keep players engaged, so it make sense that Splatoon 3 would beat, say, Mario Kart 9 to market.

Nevertheless, Splatoon 3 is coming in 2022, and as someone who has sunk 2,000+ hours into Splatoon 2 and written entire blog posts dedicated to the Undercover Brella, I am 100% on board with this. The introduction of the “Splatlands” gives the developers a chance to dive deeper into the lore of the series (what’s left of humanity besides an upside-down Eiffel Tower?) and cater to the Chaos faction that won the final Splatfest, while also not leaving behind all of the other stuff that made the first two games great. The game features more character customization options, more weapon types, more maps, more movement options, more special weapons (the inkzooka is kinda-sorta back?), and the confusing ability to spawn from a flying espresso machine and launch into battle (I don’t feel like it adds much to the game tbh). While there’s no evidence of Brellas in the game just yet (no sign of dualies either…), most of the remaining weapon classes are back, with certain weapons getting a redesign to suit the chaotic vibe of the game (admittedly I’m more a fan of the classic .96 Gal look). With over a year before launch (I predict an early summer release similar to that of the other games), Nintendo has plenty of time to fill in the gaps on things like Salmon Run, so we’ll be hearing a lot more from this game in 2021 (and by extension, you’ll all have to put up with me endlessly gushing over it).

So what’s the final verdict? Honestly, this is probably my favorite Direct since I started watching them, and after spending the back half of 2020 wondering if this blog would stop focusing on gaming entirely, I think we’ll have plenty of gaming content going forward (assuming I can get my hands on some of these games). I get that people may have gripes about what was shown off (no BotW2, Xenoblade characters aren’t that exciting, non-RPG fans had to suffer through a lot of trailers), but for me this was a nearly perfect presentation, and I’m excited to try some of these games out (starting with the demos and likely Bravely Default II). Nintendo kicked 2021 off with a bang, and I hope they’re able to keep the momentum going as the world trudges slowly back to some semblance of normality.

Among Us: Is It Worth Buying On Switch?

Every game seems to make its way to the Switch eventually…but is the Switch the best way to experience them all?

Among Us was initially released by InnerSloth back in 2018, but it really took off in 2020 as streamers began playing the game and people began looking for any method to socialize with their friends, even if said method involved accusing said friends of murder. The game is a virtual clone of the classic Mafia /Werewolf party game, where one person is selected as the killer and the rest of the group has to deduce the killer’s identity before everyone dies. In this version, the game is a bit more active than just sitting around in a circle: You’re tasked with managing a spaceship or interplanetary outpost, and you have to complete a set of¬† tasks and avert imposter sabotages while also dodging the killer’s knife and putting your amateur detective/lawyer skills to the test.

When it comes to Among Us, there are really two questions to answer:

  • Is the game worth buying at all?
  • If it is, is the recent Nintendo Switch release the best way to experience it?

The truth is that we have a split decision here: Among Us is a fun, engaging game no matter how you play it, but certain control schemes and setups work better than others, and unfortunately the Switch is not well suited to a game that requires this much communication.

My detailed thoughts on the game are as follows:

  • With its “Newgrounds art style” and relatively simple mechanics, this is not a game that will overwhelm the Switch’s limited tech specs (after all, it’s originally a mobile game). That said, the game can be incredibly glitchy at times (a lobby may refuse to load properly, or the game may behave unpredictably when certain things happen, such as a simultaneous kill and body report), and the original version of downloading seemed to lack basic functionality (menus wouldn’t even scroll). If you’re used to Nintendo’s fastidious QA and incredibly-polished products, playing a game that falters this much can be a bit of a shock.
  • As a crewmate, you’re given a to-do list of tasks to complete while you run around the map looking for bodies. (After being killed, you can still complete tasks as a ghost, which is exactly what would happen in real life: “Sorry for your untimely demise! You’re still teaching your 9 AM class tomorrow, right?”) If everyone completes their tasks before the imposter can kill the crewmates, the imposter loses, but it’s very dependent on the people you’re playing with (and there’s always someone who’s never doing tasks), so task completion wins are kind of rare. Since the tasks were designed for a point-and-tap/click interface, their mappings to the JoyCons/Pro controller can be hit-or-miss: For example, the dreaded card swipe and water wheel tasks are just a simple spin of the left stick, but turning on lights or sorting items in the specimen room are arduous endeavors requiring slow, deliberate movements. (And don’t even get me started on electrical calibration: After failing that task three times and then immediately getting murdered, I was ready to toss my Switch out the window.)
  • As an imposter, your job is to kill, sabotage, lie, and generally make life miserable for everyone else. While this is easier said than done (someone always walks in on you the moment you kill someone), it can be immensely satisfying to deceive your way to victory. The Switch control scheme here is fairly straightforward, with one notable exception: Navigating the sabotage map is done with the right stick rather than the left stick, so you have to be really careful to use the correct stick and not accidentally walk away from the task you’re faking.
  • If you think you know everything you need to know just by watching your favorite streamers, think again. The game is played much faster in public lobbies then you might expect: Fewer tasks, shorter kill cooldowns, less discussion/vote time, and sometimes not that many players (lobbies either fill immediately or barely fill at all). Forget about elaborate statements meant to obscure your movements; you barely have time to say “orange vented” before you have to vote. It can also be tricky to find a game with a good balance between the crew and the imposter: Short task lists give the crew a massive advantage, but with longer lists and shorter cooldowns, the imposters really have to screw up to lose.
  • Speaking of public lobbies…after trying to find a open public lobby in Among Us, I will never complain about Splatoon lobbies ever again. I absolutely hate the game-finding interface in this game: You have some barely-functionality search options to filter your results, and said results are stale pretty much the moment you get them. Actually finding a game generally requires about 10 iterations of clicking on a lobby, being told it’s full, getting kicked back to the main menu, and re-entering the search menu again. You eventually develop some rough heuristics to finding an open lobby: It should have no more than 6 or 7 players when you see it, and you’d better select it within three seconds of it appearing or you’re sunk. Having a Splatoon-like system where you’re automatically placed in a lobby based on your search criteria would be a much better system, but just not booting people back to the main screen when they select a full lobby would be a step in the right direction.
  • Where the Switch version of Among Us absolutely fails is in the communication department, which is a huge part of the game (when a body is discovered, players gather and discuss who might have done it). The Switch’s on-screen keyboard is slow, clunky, and obscures the entire screen, so it takes forever to type out your statement and the conversation has usually moved on long before you get your two cents in. (And you can forget about it if you’re accused of being the imposter: By the time you finish typing out your defense, everyone’s already voted and you’ve being tossed into space.) This extends to the post-game lobby chat as well: You’re dying to explain that you totally didn’t see a body in O2, but the next game starts long before you can type out your explanation. Given that communication is such a big part of the game, coming up so short in this area is a big problem.
  • Okay, I’ve griped enough: Is the game actually fun? Truthfully, it is! It’s one of those games that can suck you in for hours if you’re not careful, especially since imposter rounds can be few and far between and everybody wants to be the killer (despite the fact that in my opinion, being imposter is way harder than being a simple crewmate). Testing your detective and con artist skills in a low-stakes environment is really engaging, especially if you get time to reveal your elaborate schemes in between matches. While the game is best experienced with a known group of friends and an alternative communication method (preferably a voice channel, but text chat with a full keyboard can work too), public games can be enjoyable once you find a suitable lobby. The $5 price point is also a huge seller as well: Even if the game’s a dud, you aren’t wasting $60 on it like a big triple-A title.

Nothing beats a 1v9 victory. ūüôā

So yes, this game is absolutely worth getting. However, given the Switch’s struggles with arguably the game’s most important mechanic (communication), you’re probably better off purchasing the game on a platform with a faster text interface (either PC or¬† mobile). If the Switch is your only option, it’s still a good game, but its limitations keep it from being a great one. The Switch may be the hot platform for every game in existence (except the NHL series *grumble grumble*), but not everything translates well to a console, and in this case I’d encourage folks to limit their Switch killings to Goomba stomping, and play Among Us on a platform more suited for its gameplay.

Paper Mario: The Origami King: Is It Worth Buying?

This game took more inspiration from Mario + Rabbids than you might think…

One of the downsides of my current three-posts-a-week schedule is that when song releases ramp up, they don’t leave me a lot of room to write anything but reviews. I’d been sitting on my Diamond Rio deep dive and my thoughts for Paper Mario: The Origami King for a while now, but it’s only now that the charts have calmed down enough to let me talk about them (which says more about Taylor Swift’s loss of clout in country music than anything else).

I had a lot to say about this game in my early impressions post, and unfortunately the TL;DR version of this post is that after finishing this game, most of what I said and felt then still applies. However, there are two major things that I wanted to expand upon before rendering my “worthwhile” judgment:

Mario stumbles across Nashville’s “faceless young male artist” assembly line. You can clearly see Jon Langston in the second row.

  • The Good News: The new character design gets better over time, and (gasp) existing characters have a lot more personality than usual.

One of the unintended revelations of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is how flat (no pun intended) Mario was as a character compared to his Rabbid counterparts (and even characters like Luigi and Peach!). For the most part, Mario was a typical stoic silent protagonist, smiling and scowling at the appropriate moments and generally letting his attacks do the talking. The Paper Mario developers were apparently taking notes, because in this game he gets a chance to show more emotions and some actual personality traits. He cries when he’s sad, he freaks out when he’s in distress (though there are still moments when he seems preternaturally cool in an anxious situation), and most noticeably, the man busts a move whenever he gets a chance (he’d been waiting for this chance since Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix). The player sees their emotions reflected in Mario more than ever in this game, and I really enjoyed seeing him loosen up.

It’s not just Mario, though: Luigi, Bowser, and especially Kamek and Bowser Jr. get to show a bit more personality this time around, and it’s much more interesting than their generally-one-note roles in past games. Background characters get a bit more interesting and fleshed-out as well: The back half of the game features professor Toads, Ancient Toads, angel Toads…for a game in which the producer said they couldn’t “create original characters that touch on the Mario universe,” this is the most variety I’ve seen between different Toad characters in quite some time. (On a side note: I have some theories as to why this rule was put in place‚ÄĒprimarily I think it’s because Nintendo doesn’t want another Waluigi situation, where a character spawns a rabid fan base that throws tantrums and goes after developers whenever they feel their “hero” has been wronged.) The text remains sharp throughout the game, but there’s more going on with characters visually and personally here too, and that’s a good thing.

Spoiler alert: Apparently I’m one of the bosses in this game? …Wait, I don’t review albums‚ÄĒthis must be the other Kyle.

  • The Bad News: If I were to sum this game up in one word, it was be “unintuitive.”

In general, Mario titles are designed in such a way that they’re very easy to just pick up and play‚ÄĒyou just seem to know what to do to progress, no matter the situation. This game, however, is the exact opposite: I found myself seeing no obvious way to continue and thinking “WTF?” far too many times. Not only were the lack of overworld visual cues I mentioned in my last post a common theme, but battles tended to come in two varieties: You either saw the solution immediately, or you never saw it at all. Rarely did I find that spending just a bit more time thinking through a situation made any difference at all.

The worst part about this is that the game basically concedes this point, but instead of doing something about it, the developers just gave up and settled for heavily and explicitly hinting at your next move rather than making the puzzle easier to understand. Whether it was Olivia’s super-specific hints, the Puzzle Solver provided by the Battle Lab, or the hint envelopes specifically placed on the field in boss and Vellumental battles, the game seemed to be consistently telling the player “Yeah, we know this doesn’t make sense.” When Kensuke Tanabe said “This is an adventure game after all,” he wasn’t kidding: There was times when trying to figure out my next move here brought back painful flashbacks of cycling through random items and commands in Monkey Island, desperately trying to figure out which combination worked.

But we haven’t hit bottom yet: The number of insta-death scenarios increases substantially as the game goes on, forcing the player to learn from their mistakes in the most blunt and ineffective way possible (and heaven help you if you hadn’t saved recently…). The amount of padding increases as time goes on as well: The Shy Guy quiz show randomly tossed in during the green streamer segment was an irritating waste of time, and the final boss battle might be the worst one I’ve played in any RPG or adventure series (the battle has three parts instead of the typical two, and the second and third parts were absolutely awful).

So when all the chips are tallied…is Paper Mario: The Origami King worth buying? Originally I said that it depended on “realizing what sort of game you‚Äôll be getting into,” but after playing through the whole thing, my answer is a flat “No” no matter how you slice it. This is a below-average RPG, a below-average adventure game, and even a sorry excuse for a¬† puzzle game. It’s easily the worst Paper Mario game I’ve ever played (with the important caveat that I have yet to experience Paper Mario: Sticker Star), and in a world where much better options exist (Dragon Quest Builders anyone?), I can’t recommend this game unless you’re a Paper Mario completionist who really wants to experience it.

I know that the Paper Mario series is all about experimentation and unique experiences, but this game wound up being a bridge too far for me. Here’s hoping they rein things in a bit when the next title comes out in 2024.

Paper Mario: The Origami King: Early Impressions

What do you look for in a Paper Mario game? The answer will determine whether or not The Origami King is right for you.

“The Paper Mario series is a bit of a sore spot for gamers of a certain age. In the beginning, the game stayed close to its Super Mario RPG roots by mixing platforming elements into its role-playing core, and early games in the series¬†won plaudits for their unique combat systems,¬†creative¬†partner character designs, and overarching stories. Over time, however, the game‚Äôs RPG/platforming mix shifted as Nintendo attempted to distinguished Paper¬†Mario from its¬†Mario & Luigi series, with¬†Paper Mario becoming more of an experimental platform while¬†Mario & Luigi remained a traditional RPG. This change did not sit well with fans of the original¬†Paper Mario games, and more recent games in the games have taken heat for their generic characters…minimal story…and bizarre gimmicks.”

The above paragraph is how I opened my review for Paper Mario: Color Splash back in 2016, and while the rest of the world has been turned upside down since then, the debate over this series remains roughly the same: Paper Mario continues to drift away from its RPG roots, continues to experiment with its game mechanics, and continues to burden its characters with generic visual designs (because they’re apparently not allowed to do anything else?). In some sense, Paper Mario has fallen into the same trap as The Band Perry, constantly trying to reinvent itself and pushing away its original fanbase in the process. It’s left people feeling ambivalent about the series and its direction, and every release is met with a bizarre mix of hope and horror (Will their be partners? Will there be a point to battles? Will the inevitable paper gimmicks be incorporated well or feel tacked-on?).

For this reason, the gaming world watched with bated breath as Nintendo released Paper Mario: The Origami King, the latest entry in the series and the first on Nintendo’s Switch console. While Color Splash ended up being fed to the wolves to prop up the end of the Wii U’s lifecycle, The Origami King steps into the batter’s box with a lot less pressure: The Switch is already a runaway success with loads of classic titles, and there’s no unorthodox gimmick beyond Nintendo’s usual inclusion of motion controls (and certainly nothing on the level of the Wii U gamepad). Freed from the touchscreens of the 3DS and Wii U (and the many criticisms leveled at the games for shoehorning them in) and the need for the game to be a hardware-mover (that what Zelda, Pok√©mon, Animal Crossing, and 3D Mario games are for), the game seemed free to be whatever Nintendo wanted in to be. Thus we came back to the original $100,000 question: Would Paper Mario: The Origami King be a return to the standard RPG mechanics of Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, a continuation of the hybrid, off-the-wall mechanics of Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Paper Mario: Color Splash, or would it do something else entirely?

On some level, the answer to this question is “All of the above,” but the biggest influence here is clearly¬†Sticker Star¬†and¬†Color Splash, especially when it comes to the controversial combat system (more on that later). This is not necessarily a bad thing (I actually enjoyed¬†Color Splash), but so far many of the differences I see between Color Splash and¬†The Origami King feel like downgrades from the previous game, making me a little ambivalent about the experience overall.

Let’s dive into the specifics:

  • The visuals in Color Splash were on-point, and while The Origami King generally leans on the same style (and the Switch doesn’t offer much of a graphical upgrade over the Wii U), the color schemes seem a lot more vibrant this time around. In Color Splash, levels could end up feeling a bit monochromatic thanks to each level’s reliance on a primary color (which was often a dark or bland shade), but the palettes used by The Origami King seem to pop and stand out a bit more (Autumn Mountain in particular). The same texture differences are noticeable when dealing with different types of paper, and the wire framing that’s visible when Mario needs to fill a hole in the landscape makes things look a bit more alive than the blank spots seen all over Color Splash. The backgrounds still seem to fade…well, into the background and become less noticeable as you focus on the story, but it’s still worth appreciating the view now and again. (The music is another matter: I found most of the tracks, even the battle ones, to be fairly bland and forgettable, although I’d still take them over 95% of the Cobronavirus tracks country music has foisted upon us…)
  • The character designs are basically a wash between Color Splash and The Origami King. The dialogue remains razor-sharp as and witty as ever, and some of the Toads have a few defining visual characteristics (a hat here, a scarf there), but the conversations are generally limited to one-off jokes that are forgotten ten seconds after the encounter. I haven’t really found any equivalent to characters like JUSTICE TOAD from Color Splash, and while the writers do a great job giving Olivia a naive-yet-idealistic personality that makes her easy to bond with and relate to, I miss Huey’s wit and attitude from Color Splash. The big addition here are partner characters that will travel with you in addition to Olivia, but outside of some amusing banter and the occasional rescue mission, they don’t add a whole lot to the experience. (They’re even less useful in combat, as the partners I’ve met thus far only target one enemy and will sometimes fail to attack at all.) It’s not bad by any means, but I was hoping for a bit more in this department.
  • The level layouts are fairly linear, but they still allow for lots of exploration and plenty of platforming (especially given the number of collectibles strewn about the landscape). Given their expansive size, however, I really wish you had a faster travel option than Mario’s casual jog, especially since the overworld is now completely connected rather than being split into separate areas. I wouldn’t call these environments terribly novel, but they’re still fairly compelling and do a decent job keeping you on track and on time on your way to the next set piece. My main issue here is that the visual cues aren’t always very clear: I’ve found myself wandering back and forth through areas for fifteen minutes before finally giving up and asking Olivia where the magical McGuffin is. (If you have to have your partner character explain what you should be looking for in great detail, that’s a design issue you really need to address.) Some of the overworld challenges can be a bit unintuitive as well, although these often boil down to yet another visual cue you failed to notice. It’s generally okay, but be ready for a few moments of frustration if you don’t keep your eye peeled.
  • Okay, we’ve danced around the elephant in the room long enough: Individual tastes will vary on The Origami King‘s combat system, but for my money it’s a noticeable downgrade from Color Splash. Battles now take place in a three-dimensional space, with enemies arranged around you in rings that can be manipulated to rearrange the bad guys into patterns that suit your weapons (lines for your jump, 2×2 squares for your hammer), a process that’s only slightly less tedious than selecting and flicking cards in Color Splash. Arrange them properly within the time limit and the given number of ring moves, and you’re rewarded with an attack bonus that usually lets you wipe the field clean in a single turn. Winning battles gives you:
    • Confetti to fill in holes in the overworld, and
    • Coins that can be used either to buy weapons/items/etc., put more time on the clock for future ring battles, or entice the Toads that you find in the overworld to cheer and do other helpful things (deal some damage, rearrange the battlefield, etc.)

    I’m not a fan of timed puzzles to begin with, and I found that the battle arrangements tended to be either super simple or completely indecipherable. The former is more prevalent, which can lead to big problems when you run up against a more-complex setup: You can still bull rush your way through the enemies regardless of how they’re arranged, but they’ll probably get a chance to strike back, which leads to two issues:

    • Enemies attack in groups of four, so you’ll often find quite a few waiting to mow you down.
    • The scenario happens infrequently enough that you never quite get a handle on the block timing.

    In other words, you’ve got a lot of enemies dealing a lot of damage, which is a dangerous combination.

    The “first strike” ability (the ability for you to attack an enemy or the enemy to attack you in the overworld to get an opening attack off) is back, but it really doesn’t serve any purpose here. If you attack first, you deal a puny amount of damage to a single enemy, which means basically nothing when they’re rolling in groups of four. If they attack first, you find yourself in the same perilous defense state as above. In short, it strikes me as a low-reward/high-risk proposition that should have been removed entirely.

    But at least you aren’t reliant on consumable, single-use items for battle, right? No, but what we get instead isn’t much of an improvement. Mario’s basic Hammer and Jump attacks are infinite-use, but they’re also very weak and require multiple hits on tougher enemies to bring them down. You can purchase stronger boots and hammers, but these are limited-use and will eventually break (and you get little more indication of when this will happen than you do for your tools in Animal Crossing). Nintendo seems to have a bizarre fascination with weapon durability, and I don’t like it: Not in Breath of the Wild, not in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and not here. As annoying as rebuilding your deck was in Color Splash, at least there was some certainty built into the system: You used the card once, and then it was gone. Here, you’re given a few bandages on the weapon icon when it’s in danger of breaking, which means you either replace it early or risk getting a surprise breakdown in the middle of battle.

    And then we get to the worst part: The incentive to actually battle enemies is minimal at best. I never found a need to buy time or pay off the Toad crowd, so I found myself toting around tens of thousands of coins by the time I cleaned up the first streamer. Confetti is a bit more scarce, and the game tries is best to incentivize fighting by showering you with the stuff after battle and being more stingy with it in the overworld, but I still found enough to fill in all the holes scattered around the levels. While Color Splash at least tied paint hammer capacity to combat, here HP and confetti capacity upgrades are completely separated from the battle system. By the time I hit the second Vellumental temple, I was asking myself “What’s the point of all this?” and started avoiding battles entirely.

    Speaking of Vellumentals: I’ve found the boss battles thus far to be surprisingly easy, although that’s partially because I occasionally stumbled into the proper way to attack or dodge. Boss battles flip the script by putting you on the outside of the ring and making you chart a path towards the big bad guy sitting in the center, hitting switches and gathering items along the way. The issue here is that health hearts will appear on the map every couple of turns, allowing you ignore the optimal solution, grab the hearts on your way to the boss, and just brute-force your way through the fights without even having to use an item.

    The TL;DR version of this rant: Outside of the satisfying rush you get from pulling off a successful Thousand-Fold Arms attack, there’s little reason to venture into unforced battles once you build up your coin reserves, and that’s a real shame.

So after all this ranting, the biggest question remains: Have you at least had fun playing the game? With Color Splash, the answer was an emphatic “Yes”; with The Origami King, it’s more of a “yeah, I guess.” I played a bit of Paper Mario and Paper Mario: Color Splash while waiting for my copy of The Origami King to arrive, and it’s really struck me how much more I enjoyed those games: The rhythm of the battles, the unique and endearing characters, the steady growth and progression of your character from beginning to end, and so on. I’ve had a decent time with Paper Mario: The Origami King, but I’ve yet to feel that same level of connection with the game. It’s a decent adventure game/platformer/puzzler hybrid, but it tries to do too many things at once and doesn’t excel at any of them (and it’s a pretty poor excuse for an RPG regardless).

It’s hard to say “is the game worth buying?” at this point, but the key to this question is realizing what sort of game you’ll be getting into. If you’re looking for a return to the roots of Paper Mario, this is not your game and you should probably look for something else to play. If you enjoy adventure and puzzle games, however, there’s still a lot here for you, especially if the battle system hooks you more than it did me. I’m a bit disappointed by The Origami King thus far, but the Mario charm is still there, and while it doesn’t feel quite as strong as it did in Color Splash, exploring the Mario universe is still as exciting as ever. Let’s see if I still feel that way by the end of this thing…